January 20, 2024 – When people get married, the ceremony usually includes a promise to stick together in sickness and in health. A particularly bad sickness that strikes late in life, and is devastating for families, is Alzheimer's disease, because it strikes at the very heart of a person's identity.
This heartbreaking documentary shows the awful mental decline of one of the leading journalists of Chile, Augusto Góngora. Ironically, Augusto had dedicated years to preserving the memory of the horrors of the General Pinochet's dictatorship (Pinochet was brought to power by military coup with the aid of the U.S. Government under the leadership of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger). Pinochet's rule (1974-1990) by terror included thousands of political opponents murdered, tortured or sent into exile.
Augusto's wife, Paulina Urrutia, is his primary care giver. Paulina, an actress and former Minister of Culture and the Arts in Chile, is shown with Augusto in good times and bad, over a period of over 20 years. Home video of the couple, along with other home videos dating back to the 1980s show Augusto as a young, handsome man with his two young children by a previous marriage.
This documentary, written and directed by Maite Alberdi (“The Mole Agent”) uses a lot of stationary camera setups (some by Paulina herself) to capture life in Augusto and Paulina's home, evidently to avoid the intrusiveness of cameramen (Alberdi used a very small crew while filming Augusto and Paulina at home over a period of four years). Augusto is a witty and charming fellow in the earlier years, with a real gusto for life. Over the years, he becomes withdrawn, agitated, and finally, loses his desire to continue living.
During the the Pinochet dictatorship, Augusto was part of Teleanalisis, a newscast secretly recorded and distributed by tape that gave an account of what was really happening in the country. Together with other journalists, Augusto interviewed people and recorded what was happening on the streets. Those reports are now an important part of the historical record of the dictatorship in Chile.
Later, Augusto wrote books about the horrors of the dictatorship, and even when he could not remember much about these books, he still treasures his book collection. Near the end of Augusto's life, he is shown carrying books around, and becoming agitated about not being able to find certain books. One of the few memories Augusto has of this period is a painful one, the memory of a friend who was brutally murdered because of his opposition to Pinochet.
Paulina is shown performing stage plays relating to memory, and Augusto even joins in at times. He likes to dance. Augusto accompanies Paulina often. She clearly wants him around, rather than leaving him at home. As Augusto's condition worsens, and his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, it becomes increasingly difficult for Paulina to care for him.
At times Augusto forgets who Paulina is. Near the end, he can barely walk, but during moments of clarity, he still proclaims his love for Paulina. This film, in Spanish with English subtitles, premiered on Jan. 21, 2023 at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Augusto died on May 19, 2023, at the age of 71.
This documentary not only chronicles the mental decline of a famous journalist, but it also shows us the beauty of love and marriage. It shows us how love persists, even when memory fails. This film rates an A.
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